As to be expected for an event at the tech-focused South by Southwest Interactive Festival, a panel of artificial intelligence entrepreneurs voiced fearless optimism for the future job market, even though some studies predict that 47 percent of workers could be replaced by computerization.
Much of the insight from the panelists of “Finding a Job in an Automated Future,” held Sunday evening as part of SXSW’s Intelligent Future Track, can be valuable to workers in various occupations. This includes those in the legal profession, who have been hearing news of robots taking away entry-level legal work for the past several years.
Excelling in the present
Robbie Allen, CEO of Automated Insights—a company that enables artificial intelligence to produce news stories, among other things—said that while the 20th century saw the automation of repetitive physical tasks, the 21st century is about automating repetitive intellectual tasks, particularly those that are quantitative.
But Allen doesn’t necessarily think this automation is reducing the number of jobs. Instead, jobs are just starting to look different—such as humans working with technology and software, which he says is more powerful than tech working on its own. Any time there has been job loss, he said, there has also been job creation in a new segment of the market.
Allen and co-panelist Dennis Mortensen, CEO of x.ai—an automated virtual assistant that schedules meetings—agreed that technology actually gives workers more time to focus on tasks that robots cannot do. The technology provided by Allen’s company, for example, has helped workers in media have more time to write in-depth stories.
“Just because you can have an intelligent agent read 1,000 pages of legal documents,” Mortensen said, “doesn’t mean I’m going to go fire that paralegal. I might just want her to work on something different.”
Mortensen’s company hires people to train the tech, which he sees as an increasingly common job of the future. Almost two dozen x.ai employees train Amy, the virtual meeting scheduler, and the sole job responsibility of one employee—a drama major—is to create Amy’s communication tone and personality.
But instead of this technology replacing workers, he hopes that workers will stay put and just work fewer hours and have an improved quality of life. Mortensen then admitted he is from Denmark and that he realizes American culture might be hesitant to the concept.
Preparing for the far future
Stressing that the future beyond the next 20 years is too difficult to predict, Allen said that he doesn’t expect tech to have full human capability in his lifetime because governmental regulations will slow progress. He also doesn’t expect massive job loss. “Jobs that require human ingenuity will not be automated any time soon,” he said.
Allen’s advice for the workforce of the future? Creativity and entrepreneurship will be essential, as will be an open-minded attitude and willingness to learn new skills. Knowledge of data analysis and ability to communicate well through words will also help.
Mortensen foresees a future where a dozen or so artificial intelligence agents do things like book travel and prepare tax returns while communicating with each other. This, he says, will make certain professions, like accounting, more susceptible to job loss. Still, Mortensen said he thinks humanity will adapt.
“The bleak view believes there is no more human imagination,” he said. “I don’t see that humans will want to give up that easily.”